When the opportunity of cracking a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano presents itself…you take it. I was able to cross this item off my bucket list this weekend at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in the Strip District. The amount of work and knowledge that goes into cracking a wheel of cheese this size doesn’t just take strength. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of patience. The ladies and gentlemen behind this counter make it look so easy, but trust me when I tell you, it’s not! This experience wasn’t just a learning curve, but also a work out.
My Saturday morning at Penn Mac was well spent, surrounded by hundreds of fabulous cheeses and even better company. I came across a video of my new friend Adam, a Cheesemonger at Penn Mac, splitting a wheel of Gruyere with a wire and was oddly satisfied. Adam invited me in to join him and his team to teach me the ropes to cracking cheese. Heading into the shop I expected I would just be slicing cheeses with a wire too. But, Adam and his coworkers Tom and Thomas had other plans for me. I suited up and we got started on cracking this 90 pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano the old fashioned way. With nothing but cheese knives. Some of these guys have been doing this for 20 years, and it shows. For me, not so much. But with everyone’s help, I was able to score the wheel, flip the wheel and of course, crack it. The details inside these wheels of cheese looks beautiful, smells magical and tastes delicious.
Some quick facts about Parmigiano Reggiano. This is a hard cheese produced in Italy. The outside layer is called the rind which is made of hard cheese, which develops as the cheese ages. The rind is stamped with important information including production dates, identification numbers and a D.O.P. stamp which in translation means “protected designation of origin”. This ensures that products are locally made in Italy. The rinds are popular for cooking soups and stocks, which is now officially on my to do list.
The process of getting the initial crack is tedious, and the work only gets more specific from there. This job is an art. It requires passion, heavy lifting, and a true understanding of the hundreds of products that gets delivered to the shop every week. I appreciate Adam, Tom and Thomas for taking the time to teach me about their passion and skill. I have a new appreciation for cheese which I didn’t know was possible.